BIO: Dr. Bud Bence has served as a professor of Church History for decades. As such, he has been used by God in the equipping of many ministers. Although he is not a pastor at this time, he is often invited to preach at conferences and camps. Bud gives the following advice to preachers: “Your best sermons will answer a question that your parishioners have never thought to ask or have been asking for some time without getting an acceptable answer.”
Lenny: You framed this sermon on wounds with a historical allusion to the Civil War and earthed wounds in our contemporary setting by naming specific wounds like the grief of death. Why do you think it’s important for preachers to earth the sermon content with imagistic, vivid, concrete language like you did in the introduction?
Bud: For centuries, humans lived in an auditory world. Because most were illiterate and visual images, like paintings and sculptures, were hard to produce, people learned from what they heard. With modern technology, we now live in a visual world. We have images accessible to us every moment of the day. So preaching must shift to a more visual mode. We must use words to create the “virtual reality” in the minds of our listeners.
Lenny: You dealt often, in this sermon, with the problem of evil, or theodicy. The question you wrestled with at times during the sermon was, Why do we suffer in this world that a good, loving, all-powerful God created? So much of preaching flows out of the preacher’s willingness to reflect upon and wrestle with this question. How has your theology of human suffering, your theodicy, shaped your preaching?
Bud: I was only seven when my older brother was killed in an automobile accident. I recall that even at that young age everyone was trying to explain to me why God allowed this tragedy to happen…and in my intense grief, I did not buy any of their answers. I was in college when I read the parable of the weeds in the field. The Master’s explanations was simple; “An enemy has done this.” (Matthew 13:26) That helped me shift the blame away from God and to deal with the reality of suffering and misfortune in this world. Perhaps that event more than any, has caused me to wrestle with this issue in my life and in many of my sermons.
Lenny: Your honesty about the wounds of life was so refreshing. It’s not that we want to wallow in the wounds of life. But as Frederick Buchner implies in his book, Telling the Truth, people won’t really hear the good news from the preacher unless he/she is first honest about the bad news. Your message was so honest it made me as a listener feel as if you, the preacher, understood the realities of my life. You even made sure to say, after describing the story of God redeeming Joseph’s wounds, “your story may not have a happy ending.” You told the story about the tragic death of your brother and admitted, with great honesty, that you still don’t see any good in that tragedy. Sometimes preachers, in our desire to comfort people, tend to sugar-coat the painful realities embedded in the human condition. When this happens listeners conclude that the preacher is in “la-la land,” out of touch with the real world, and they stop listening. In your experience, do you find that most preachers are honest about both the bad news and the good news? And, why do you think it’s important for preachers to be honest about both?
Bud: I have found transparency to be one of the most difficult qualities to master in my preaching ministry. There are preachers who are so insecure that they dare not reveal any flaws or misgivings in their lives, lest it damage their image. Most listeners can detect this plastic façade and either turn off the speaker or reflect back their own plastic version of themselves as never having any issues just like the preachers. The opposite style of preacher, although more rare, is worse…preacher who bares their souls and personal lives to the embarrassment of their families, the discomfort of their congregations and the discrediting of their reputation as women and men of God. Most of us have head a sermon where we winced and said to ourselves “Stop right there, preacher,” as we heard someone pushing that line of honest confession.
Pastors who develop this art of vulnerability will be able to divulge enough of themselves to draw their listeners into a real world where issues can be faced and spiritual healing can be made accessible. They will do this while maintaining appropriate professional detachment and not discrediting their role as a spiritual leader of the congregation.
Lenny: How can the preaching event help listeners process the wounds in their lives?
Bud: Most Christians have experienced a deep hurt at some time in their lives. Often we conceal these wounds because we have been taught that believers “tell it to Jesus” and then get over it. Bringing these wounds out in the open by illustrating them from Biblical characters like Joseph, Peter and Paul frees the listener to acknowledge the wounds, or at least the scars, are still there and they can become a dimension of healing and ministry to others.
Lenny: Your sermon, which focused mostly on the wounds we endure and inflict, climaxed with the focus on Jesus’ wounds which he bears, in some degree, to this day. In other words, your anthropological analysis became Christological. You ended the sermon by pointing out how our wounds become a witness to the wounds of Christ. “Jesus kept his wounds” was a mantra you used several times toward the conclusion of your message. At what point in the sermon preparation process did you see the connection between our wounds and the wounds of Christ to which our wounds bear witness?
Bud: Interesting enough, the process was actually reversed. I have long been puzzled by the Easter account and the fact that the Risen Lord was still marked with his suffering. I had already come to the conclusion that retaining the wounds –no doubt without pain or discomfort—was an aspect of Christ’s ministry to others. So seeing the question “What are you doing with the wounds in your life” prompted me to think in terms of how we are Christlike in revealing our wounds. In the Apostle Paul speaks of “the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10) That prompted me to think of bringing these two concepts together rather than seeing them as distinctly separate. Suffering and resurrection glory can be integral aspects of a Christian living while still here on earth.